If you need a reason to break out that bottle of wine this weekend, here it is: Moderate drinking past the age of 60 may help keep Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia away.

A recent analysis of 15 studies that included more than 28,000 people over a period of at least two years revealed that those who drank anywhere from one to 28 drinks each week had lower levels of dementia than those who completely abstained. How low? Men had a 45 percent lower risk, while women's risk dropped by 27 percent.

While the researchers admit that it's difficult to make definitive claims of alcohols' protective qualities without knowing exactly what types of alcohol people drank, how much they defined a single drink to be, and other lifestyle issues that could play a role, they're encouraged by the results. After all, science has provided plenty of data indicating that moderate alcohol consumption can increase levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, reduce the stickiness of the blood, and facilitate blood flow to and from the brain. All of these factors play a role in whether or not a person develops dementia.

Scientists are careful to point out that people who never drink would be unwise to start, since alcohol, for all its benefits, also carries certain risks. And while several drinks a day may be considered moderate for one person, that amount may be way over the limit for another. Generally, bigger people can handle more alcohol than smaller people, with men falling into the former category and women the latter.

Unfortunately, the protective effects of alcohol don't seem to come into play once a person already has mild cognitive impairment. But for those still in good mental health, it seems clear that a glass or two of wine, beer or harder liquor can keep the brain functioning at its best well into the twilight years.



Source: Anstey K.J., Mack H.A., Cherbuin N, Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor for Dementia and Cognitive Decline: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies, American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 17 (7), 542-555.